Are Professional Athletes Really Good Role Models?

Whether we like it or not, professional athletes are role models to a lot of young kids. Who we identify as a role model reflects certain values of a society.

In the past two decades, sports have taken a larger role in entertainment, education, and careers. Sports have become an integral part of American culture. As a result, professional athletes have been put in the spotlight. With great skills and talents, athletes merit great respect.  However, does sporting ability automatically qualify someone as a role model?

What Makes A Good Role Model?

Sports promote health, giving kids an opportunity to be active and social. It has been shown that children who exercise perform better in their academics and social relationships.  Kids are especially sensitive to how adults are promoting health and social relationships. They look to adults for model behavior.

Because we want our kids to live a healthy life and because we know lessons learned in sports can be applied throughout life we would like to assume that an athlete would be a great role model.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Traits of a good role model

  • A good role model is enthusiastic. They enjoy their sport and are excited about being a role model. A good athletic role model is also a good sport, showing values of sportsmanship and humility. They make a commitment to behaving responsibly, in a way that shows their personal integrity.
  • They have an altruistic mission. A good role model is active in their community. They use their position of influence to have a positive effect.
  • A good athlete promotes health and displays it. They show they can have fun while balancing a nutritious and tough training lifestyle.
  • They encourage a healthy relationship between education and physical activity.

Social Media and Sports-

Keeping Kids in the Game

“Take me out to the ball game. Take me out to the crowd.”

Everyone knows the tune. Baseball is a national pastime. The Super Bowl is a nationwide holiday. And who doesn’t love filling out a bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament?

Media keeps every viewer involved and excited for sports. It is especially exciting for young athletes to see professionals on television, skillfully mastering their sports. Athletes have a great influence on what kids take in as values, how they feel about education, their training objectives and even their career goals. For some kids it may feel as though they are watching a real life superhero on TV, capable of incredible feats.

Girls and the Media

While there are a lot of people who might be role models for girls, an athletic role model may be just what our girls need.   Girls participate in sports as much as boys until age 13, but then drop out at twice the rate of boys, studies find. Watching someone like Abby Wambach or Serena Williams perform at a high level may help them to stay in sports even on a club level.

But even for those who don’t stay in sports, an athletic role model may be helpful to a young girl.  Social media can be damaging to the image of the female body, causing stigma and lowered confidence, especially found in high school girls. Athletes model healthy exercise and healthy eating without the goal being to be skinny.  Female athlete may be able to help combat the image that much of social media portrays by showing what it truly means to be healthy.

Having female athletes portrayed in a positive, healthy way has shown to be helping keep girls in sports. Self esteem and body positivity is important to young women as they are trying to grow and identify themselves. Self-esteem, which influences so much else in adolescence, increases with sports participation—teens who participate in two or more sports have a 10 percent higher score on self-esteem than teens who don’t play any sports.

Girls now are in critical need of positive representation in the media, and seem to be finding it in athletes.

Athletes worthy of role model status

Eli and Peyton Manning - The two giants of football. The Manning brothers are famously known for their Super Bowl rings. Using their names and money, they help support children’s hospitals. They have donated and raised money for children’s hospitals and clinics, continuing to serve the community.

Mia Hamm - One of the greatest female soccer players of all time but also one of the most respectable athletes of all time. She remains relevant, even after retiring, continuing to promote health and sportsmanship. In addition to her success in sports, Hamm has given to the community. She started a foundation for bone marrow, seeking to promote awareness and raise funds for families in need of a transplant. She also encourages girls to stay in sports!

Steve Nash - While Steve is famous now, he was not always so. Nash had to work hard to achieve his dreams and continues to remain humble after realizing his goals. He has started his own charity to aid children.

Robbie Rogers - A professional soccer player who has played on the US National Team. He was the first active “out” player, becoming an admirable role model for the LGBTQ youth and all children. Rogers remains true to himself and is a great example of what is really means to be brave.

Serena Williams - A great role model for women everywhere. Her incredible drive has propelled her to be 18 time Grand Slam Champion in tennis. She has worked hard for her goals and encourages other young women to do the same. Along with her tennis career, Williams is an actress, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, fashion mogul, equipment spokeswoman, philanthropist, and part owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

Serena is also human and has recently shown the human side in her outburst at the US Open.  She is a good example of role models are only part of the formula to guiding our children. When we know that our children look up to certain people and we take an active role in that part of their lives we can use behavior as an example. 

Sports are an important social and educational aspect of student athletes’ lives. Professional athletes are adults they will look to for exemplary behavior, on and off the field. Sports are important, introducing necessary values into their development. Guiding those values with healthy role models is important.  Looking up to athletes is only natural. As with anything, what matters are the values they are being exposed to and internalizing? Identifying positive role models who exhibit model behavior is important for any growing youth.